LETTER: Community organizing is a real and important job

Friday, September 5, 2008 | 10:59 a.m. CDT

Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention, the profession of community organizing was repeatedly attacked as a false profession. I offer this as proof that the aspiring John McCain campaign does not care about ordinary Americans.

Coming from Boston, I am now resident of Columbia. I decided to become an official resident because I believe that people should actively participate as citizens where they live. In Boston, there are many university visitors that come to our city but do not become residents on paper or in spirit. They do not join our community. I did not want to be the same.

I was a community organizer in Boston. As many community organizers do, I worked 60-70 hours a week, with no overtime, because the causes that I fought for were too important to be about money. I worked with families that lived in a building that was in danger of losing its affordable rental Section 8 status.

My former tenants were long-term residents, many with the additional challenge of having an elderly or sick child, and they were terrified of what would happen to them if their building's affordable status was lost. In this economy, as everywhere in the United States, the cost of living has gone up but employers pay the same or less. Many of my residents worked twoor threejobs but could not afford the market rate apartments of Boston. They were not happy with Section 8 housing either but they had no choice. No matter how hard they worked it was impossible to get out of this rut.

The system set them up to fail. If they made ‘too much' they were no longer offered a rental subsidy but it wasn't enough to actually afford an apartment and eat as well. Choosing between paying rent and eating is no way to live. This is our current reality. It is the same in Missouri as it is in Boston. Under the Bush administration, you can never get ahead. Our dreams have been on hold.

Before this, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. I saw the influence that the United States has even in this small landlocked country. It is an awesome responsibility to be an American both here and abroad. It was there that I first learned my skills as a community organizer, working one person, one family and one community at a time to share with Paraguayans in their troubles. Many of the Paraguayns felt that their economic troubles were linked to the United States. I am not an economist or a historian but I do know what was felt. It is the reality of being an American abroad.

As the Paraguayns got to know me, however, they were able to separate me from my government and they became a second family. On Sept. 11 they were the people that comforted me, whose Governor's office called me to make sure I was ok, and who brought me to their homes to make sure I was not alone. This is the power of community organizing; it brings people together.

It is with community organizing that the Workers', the Civil Rights' and the Women's Rights movements were started. It is what we so desperately need today. I think it was Mark Twain, a Missourian, that got it right, "Patriotism is supporting your country at all times and supporting your government when they deserve it." Community organizers are the ones that hold our government accountable. They are the ones that point out to us that it is not enough to elect someone; you must demand they work for you as well.

In Washington, many policies, such as our failed housing policies, do not work because politicians have long forgotten what it is like to live as an ordinary American. Barack Obama was a professional community organizer working in the trenches and he will not forget. He will work with Congress as our next president to develop detailed policies that work in our favor. Heknows what it is like to want to afford one house to call your own and not to have too many that you don't remember the exact number.

As a fellow Columbia resident, as a member of the middle-class who someday wants to buy a house, as a woman, and as a proud community organizer, I ask you to please vote for Barack Obama.

Julie Feeney is a Columbia resident.



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